Paraguayan farmers take part in a protest on Wednesday.

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Authorities try to evict peasants camping in east Paraguay

Peasants open fire, leading to 10 civilian and 7 police deaths, a hospital official says

The chief of the national police's special operations unit is among those killed, police say

Asuncion, Paraguay CNN  — 

Peasants in eastern Paraguay opened fire Friday on police trying to evict them from private property, initiating a clash that ended with at least 17 dead, local authorities and state-run media said.

The violence occurred in Curuguaty, a remote community about 240 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion near the Brazilian border.

About 300 law enforcement officers arrived Friday morning to serve the order when some of the approximately 100 farmers who had been occupying the land illegally for more than a month began shooting at them, authorities said.

Curuguaty Hospital director Gustavo Gonzalez told the state-run Paraguay Agency of Public Information that seven policemen and more than 10 farmers were killed.

About 80 more police and civilians were wounded and were receiving medical treatment, Gonzalez added. Three of the police officers were flown to Asuncion for treatment, the official news agency said.

Authorities did not detail the number of civilians killed, but they did confirm the deaths of seven police, including the chief and deputy chief of the national police’s special operations unit.

“The police entered and tried to get the people to leave, to get out of the place,” Interior Minister Carlos Filizzola told Telefuturo. “There were shots against the police and, well, from there a confrontation was produced.”

Police said the peasants had been camping on land owned by Blas Riquelme, a businessman and politician active in the South American nation’s Colorado Party.

But Jose Rodriguez, the leader of the “tent people” – so named because they live in tents, told Radio Nacional that the peasants were on public lands that Riquelme had acquired illegally.

Rodriguez lamented the loss of life, but said the peasant leaders did not order the attack on police. He added that the institutions of government don’t work and there is a need for agrarian reform.

After the incident, President Fernando Lugo sent soldiers to the zone. “All the resources of government security and strategic air are working at this moment to restore calm and tranquility to this region of the country,” he said. “I have ordered the armed forces to develop their specific mission in support of the police operation.”

In a special session, the House of Representatives observed a minute of silence in honor of the dead, the Agency of Public Information reported.

Journalist Sanie Lopez in Asuncion and Marilia Brocchetto in Atlanta contributed to this report.